Onus is on domestic makers of milk formula to prove their products are safe
State television’s scathing report on foreign brands must be taken with a pinch of salt; meanwhile, the move to breastfeeding has to be welcomed
The news about Beijing planning to provide more family-friendly facilities for breastfeeding mothers is to be welcomed. Not only does it help promote a wider breastfeeding culture on the mainland, it may put pressure on manufacturers to improve the quality of their milk products as well.
According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the percentage of babies exclusively breastfed in the first six months after birth jumped from 28 per cent in 2008 to 58 per cent in 2013. But despite the provision of more nursing facilities in recent years, breastfeeding in public has yet to be fully accepted. Many mothers complain that they still attract strange looks when doing so in front of strangers. This is not helped when there is a lack of nursery rooms in some shopping malls, restaurants and public transportation.
The switch to breastfeeding owes much to the melamine scandal in 2008, in which some mainland milk products were found to be tainted with the harmful chemical. Many mainland mothers have since turned to breastfeeding or imported formula milk powder. The scramble for reliable brands has prompted Hong Kong to restrict people from carrying formula milk in bulk across the border.
Intriguingly, the quality of foreign brands was questioned by the state media. According to a study reported by China Central Television, eight of the 19 popular foreign formulas contained “harmful” levels of vitamins and minerals. The report also urged parents to buy local brands, saying the foreign ones do not comply with Chinese standards and may hurt infants.
The report has understandably become a subject of debate on the mainland, with some critics dismissing it as a government bid to revive the local formula milk market. Be that as it may, consumers will not necessarily return to domestic brands because of ambiguous claims about imported formula. For confidence to be fully restored, manufacturers need to prove that their products are perfectly safe for consumption.